(re)Looking

Scott McCloskey

I have a confession.

I don’t really like Wallace Stevens.
I know, right?  I’m a monster.

I can appreciate his place
in capital “L” literature; I just don’t
know if I understand it — his poetry,
not his place (but, I guess, I don’t under
stand that either).

I’ve tried, believe me,
I’ve taken classes on modern poetry,
I’ve read half a biography on the dude,
listened to lectures and podcasts
raving about his “Anecdote of the
Jar” (which seems like he just didn’t
pick up after himself.  It seems, to all
accounts, that Wallace is just a litter
bug.  He left a jar in Tennessee
and wrote a poem about it.  Cool.) or
his “The Emperor of Ice-Cream” (which, yes,
I guess is about a prostitute or something,
sure, but it has nothing to do with Rocky Road
or Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey) and
this leads me to his blackbird poem,
the one about “looking.”

(I’d much rather, to be honest, spend my time
listening to “Blackbird” by The Beatles —
which I currently am, by the way, — and
“Blackbird fly into the light of a dark black
night” is so much better than “I was of three
minds, / Like a tree / In which there are
three blackbirds.”  What?!  LOL.  Seems
like lazy writing, Wallace.)

(I mean, I know, I know,
he’s Mr. Wallace Stevens,
preeminent American poet, heralded in countless
hallowed halls, winner of the Pulitzer Prize
in 1955, and, I, on the other hand,
once had a poem in the local college’s lit mag, so
we’re on equal footing, is what I’m trying to say.)

And my thoughts are as valued (and valuable?)
as his, if reader-response literary criticism is
to be believed, but this is not what I’m
thinking about at the moment.

What I’m thinking about at the moment
is why am I in an office hour Zoom call
all by myself.

I’ve got the Zoom window open, and I’m
looking at myself, looking at myself, contemplating
the choices that I made to get here.

Don’t get excited,
they’re nothing heady
nor profound.

I was just wondering about “looking.”  And about
Wallace Stevens.  When I felt a tickle in
my nose — my left nostril to be exact — so I
tilted my head backward and flared those
suckers for all they’re worth

when I realized
that I didn’t hit pause
on the recording.

So now, there’s film of me checking
my nose on camera and I wonder, not
for the first time mind you,
if Edgar Allan Poe had to worry about nose
hairs or Paul McCartney, or, heaven forbid,
even Mr. Wallace Stevens himself.

They all have noses, right?  And presumably
they all have hairs in their, respective, noses.

So did, say, Sylvia Plath, ever, mid thought, mid
sentence even, hold her pen aloft (line of verse
momentarily forgotten) crane her head backward,
eyes gently closed as if to ward off a sneeze,
only to vigorously rub her nose trying to dislodge
a foriegn body?

Had Emily Dickinson ever wondered aloud,
“Because I could not stop for Death —
He kindly stopped for WHAT IS IN MY NOSE?!”

I can almost picture Wallace digging his
meaty fingers into each nostril — forefinger
and thumb vying for purchase —  to forcefully
tug on his nasal septum, all the while, thinking,
Can I write a poem about a wayward nose
hair?

These are the things I think about when I’m
sitting in a Zoom ‘room” by myself, staring at
myself, staring at myself

until, of course, I realize I am an hour early
for the meeting.

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